Feelings of Gender

Three points are important to understand the concept of feelings as I use it in this book: first, feelings are understood as a kind of personal and embodied meaning which lingers between the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious, and between inner and outer objects. As such, they are central to human creativity and agency. Second, feelings stem from our relationships with others, and from how this relational experience is processed by the subject who comes into being and is continuously reshaped by these relational processes. Thus, feelings have a temporal dimension connected to the historical and social context of the relational experience, as well as to the subject’s life course in time and space. Feelings live in socialised subjectivities. Third, this means that feelings, even though they are always personal, may also display social patterns characteristic of a certain class, gender or generation. These points also apply when feelings are expressions of gendered experiences.

In order to elaborate upon and combine these three points, in this chapter I will connect theoretical perspectives from and inspired by the German Frankfurt School with some of the more recent psychosocial

© The Author(s) 2017 H.B. Nielsen, Feeling Gender,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-349-95082-9_2

work, which, drawing on object-relational approaches,[1] aims at combining psychoanalytic theory with societal context and change. What characterises both the older ‘grand’ theories from the Frankfurt School and the younger, more detailed psychosocial approaches is the effort to find ways to think in non-reductive ways about the connections between the outer and the inner world, between structure and meaning, and between object and subject. However, there are differences in their main questions and preoccupations, and also in the ways in which they proceed analytically. The old approach of the Frankfurt School seems to have a better grasp on the wholeness of the intertwinement of culture, individual and society, providing a framework to think about the social patterns of feelings, but not elaborating to any great extent upon the psychological processes in individuals. Conversely, the younger approach often focuses more on what goes on in the inner world of singular persons (and definitely with a more explicit emphasis on gender than the old approach), but sometimes with less attention to how psychosocial interchanges may also amount to more general social patterns of feelings. Where the old approach is occupied with social patterns, the younger approach concentrates on the multiple individual variations on and tracks to such patterns. I think we need both approaches to grasp feelings as an element in social organisation and change.

  • [1] The main characteristics of object-relational approaches are that they work with a broader conceptof human motivation than drive theories tend to do, asserting that attachment and recognition byone’s loved ones is as primary a human force as the sexual drive. There are many versions of object-relation theory, not least in relation to how much the social and historical dimensions are drawninto the analysis of the inner psychological object world. Melanie Klein, the founding figure ofBritish object-relational theory, works only on the level of the inner, unconscious world, whereasmore contemporary feminist psychoanalysts as Nancy Chodorow, Jessica Benjamin and LynneLayton, whose work I rely on in this chapter, place emphasis on how social relations affect the innerpsychic processes. It is the latter version I draw on in this chapter, whether I name it ‘object-relational theories’ or the psychosocial approach of ‘relational feminist psychoanalysts’.
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